Sunday, February 27, 2011

100 Miles is a LONG way...

"Cold is the water. It freezes your already cold mind. Death is at your doorstep and it will steal your innocence but it will not steal you substance. You are not alone in this..." Sometime after 4:30am Sunday morning, in-bound from Alexander Lake. Wearing all the clothes we brought, about 12-15 handwarmers popped between the two of us, I start to wonderwhat the hell I'm doing out here: What's the point of this? This is stupid. I'm not going to be in bed for a long time. I have never been this cold. Now, just repeat those statements in order, over and over again, and that's how I spent 12 slow miles back to Luce's. That and waking up Dave. This was the low point. In less than 24 hours, one can go from happiness to wanting to bivy up on the side of the trail, forever. Looking back, I don't exactly remember when I decided I would run the Susitna 100. I remember many months of vehemently denying that I would ever do it, starting immediately after finishing Res Pass 50. Of course, bad memories faded, denials waned and in a moment of weakness, Dave and I signed up (my weakness, his triumph). After months of sled-pulling, goggle-wearing, hand-freezing, snot-running nights, February 19th arrived. Cold. As usual. The day of the Susitna 100 started with the list, and our two extra appendages, Frisky and Jiggs. "Happiness hit her like a train on a track Coming towards her stuck still no turning back... ...the dog days are over The dog days are done The horses are coming So you better run. Run fast for your mother, run fast for your father Run for your children, for your sisters and brothers. Leave all your loving, your loving behind. You can't carry it with you if you want to survive." We thought it only got really cold in Willow, but this is not true. It gets cold over at Point Mackenzie, too. We signed in fast and jumped back in the car to keep warm. We waited long enough in fact to almost miss the start. We jumped in behind the bikers and waited for the bottleneck to ease up a bit. Took a few pics, checked out other sled setups. I'll admit, I didn't have time to be nervous because no matter how prepared I think I am, I'm always a scattered mess before a race. That and Dave was there with me. Everything always seems to settle down with him around: Ayreshire road was a slog as usual. The trail was better than last year but bikers were falling down and sleds were tipping over. We tried to zoom around as many people as we could. This is the longest 3 miles at both the beginning and at the end of a race. Once we hit the park road, it was a highway. Trail conditions were amazing, barely any punch and wider than I remembered. This first stretch was 22 miles to Flathorn Lake. Unless you're a masochist, you break the race up into manageable sections in your head. Otherwise, you'll go nuts (and that will happen regardless. What do you expect? Only crazy people do this anyway). I was pretty worried about making the first time cutoff to Flathorn by 4pm. Dave wasn't worried but he'd never really run this course at my pace. My anxiousness about this translated into bouts of quiet. Thankfully, we'd both run together enough, often after work, to know how to deal with a funk. Oh, but it was still such a great time, being out there together, running mostly side by side. "And I've come to roam the forest past the village with a dozen lazy horses in my cart. I've come here to get high, To do more than just get by. I've come to test the timber of my heart..." A short couple of hours into the race, my first gear mishap occurred. So Dave and I both have these Camelbacks with a compartment in one of the straps that holds the hose and nozzle. It's insulated and has a pouch for a handwarmer to keep the nozzle from freezing. Somebody made a killing on this design but they didn't test it at any winter 100s. I suppose they thought the marketing pool was limited to a handful of crazies and not worthwhile. Well, the warning label should read as follows: "If you are crazy enough to use this product for a winter 100 mile race, your zipper will freeze up and the force it takes to zip it down shut will cause the yellow nozzle seal to pop off. When this happens, be prepared to get wet." Cold water from a camelback that is running down your side is usually felt on your foot first. I wondered why my foot suddenly felt cold when I never get cold feet. I looked down at saw water running from my nozzle and ice already forming on the outside of my jacket and outer pants. I unzipped my jacket and saw that my layers were soaked through, too. Awesome. I'm not one for panicking, so I said, well that sucks, better keep running. I found my nozzle not too far back on the trail, plugged it up and kept going. Not too far ahead, we reached the turn for 100-milers away from the 50K course. It was open and sunny, thankfully. We met up with Kevin Vig from Palmer and Jamshid from Washington State, both veterans, and ran with them for a while. A couple of dog teams passed. I recognized Jake Berkowitz and a Redington. Helped me miss my dogs a bit less as they were our constant running partners. I, of course, am waiting for the Nome sign, some kind of marker to tell me how far I am. The Nome sign is mile 11. Yup. 89 more to go. Yikes. Focus. As soon as our tourist photo op was over, we headed down the trail to where it rejoins the 50K course. Veronica soon caught up with us, chatted a couple minutes and passed on by. She looked really strong and was keeping a good pace. I longed to be be a veteran at that point, wishing I knew all the little secrets of pacing, what to expect, how far "far" actually felt. I had decided before the race that this would be my one and only 100 so I guess I'd never have that feeling (I'm chuckling to myself after this statement). The rest of the leg went great and we dropped down into Fish Creek Slough down a steep hill. It was such a beautiful day, warm and sunny enough to dry my clothes by the time we got there: I was a lot more comfortable with our pace at that point because we had less than an hour to Flathorn checkpoint and well under the 4pm cutoff. We passed people ice fishing with their elaborate tent camps. We were two groups alien to each other, staring and completely unable to understand each others' lifestyles. Us: Jesus that looks boring. Them: Jesus that looks stupid. Last year, I turned to the left. this year a dogleg right along the lake to the Flathorn check point: Dave, just getting warmed up. Me, just recognizing the enormity of my situation: Getting to Flathorn was about 4 miles longer than any training run I'd had this winter. Yes, I'll fess up now that it's over. I was undertrained. I was feeling pretty good, just tired. It's amazing how a checkpoint can infuse you with energy, though. At Flathorn it was the famous Jambalaya and energy of the checkers. Oh, and a change of socks and undershirt. This was the only leg I was wet from sweat so it helped a lot. Dave was amazing to watch in a checkpoint. He's so damn efficient. He kept watching me to make sure I was moving along, changing, eating, repacking. And especially not getting too comfortable. He had me up and out of there quick, thank god. This is one of my favorite pictures, getting ready to leave Flathorn and head to Luce's: Anywhere you go around Southcentral, Sleeping Lady is there, just from different angles. It was amazing to see her so close and know we'd be running around her. Ahead was Luce's, 19miles. I knew this would likely take longer than the 22 miles to Flathorn, but little did I know what I was in for along the way. This is when you realize that 100 miles is, well......quite long. Somehow, less than 24 hours before this, you had some misguided notion that 100 miles seemed reasonable. Yes, this is where you begin to hear the whistle from the western. You know, the showdown in the street? Yup you are the guy furtively looking for the saloon to hide behind. You are going to learn a few lessons, my dear, about dueling with something bigger (and windier) than you. "And I've come to meet the sheriff And his posse To offer him the broadside of my jaw..." There was a slight breeze as we crossed Flathorn Lake that morphed into gusts by the start of the Dismal Swamp. Three miles from start to finish. This 3 miles is visible. The place is so dismal, it doesn't even have any Charlie Brown spruce trees. And with a headwind, dismal is a kind description. I was not happy here: I told Dave "I'm not happy here. This is not fun. Just to clarify, I'm happy to be here with you, but this part, this is not fun for me." I think I said that again in a few hours. then, I put my head down again and pressed on. By the end of the swamp the wind had picked up and eating and drinking were becoming a pain due to frozen fingers. We hit a tree break and took advantage of the relative calm. We met up with Hernan, from Argentina (interestingly, I have only met one other person from Argentina. His name was also Hernan). He had a bag that looked like a huge, leather travel duffel, and very tippy. Unfortunately we couldn't stop and talk long, as Dave's fingers got really cold and were pretty painful. He stopped for walk breaks a lot with me, causing his hands to get cold despite handwarmers. By the time we got to the Wall of Death (hill down to Susitna River) he had to keep going as I putzed around in my sled with food, clothing, what ever it is you putz around with in there. I was having trouble getting into a rhythm with food, water, peeing. Just as soon as you finish and head on your way, something else comes up- cold hands, need gloves, need neck gaiter, thirsty, another hat. Summer running is so easy..... So as I got to the Wall of Death, I jumped in Jiggs and sledded down the hill to catch up with Dave, walking ahead to keep warm: Once we dropped onto the Susitna outbound, I don't actually remember much. It was crazy windy and starting to get dark and Dave had just bluntly told me how far it was yet to Luce's. As supportive as Dave is as a running partner, he's always painfully blunt regarding mileage- it's either WAY shorter than you feel you've accomplished or you've got at least double to go than you thought. The 3-mile long Dismal Swamp with a headwind feels like 15 miles so when you are told you have 12 more miles to Luce's, it's a bit devastating on the psyche. Outbound on the Susitna, Still apparently in good spirits: Not long after, we turned up the Yentna and saw 3 headlamps coming our way. Not only were the lead bikers now in-bound, but they had a killer tailwind and would be in bed by Saturday night. Bastards. (Note to self- sell sled, price bikes). Still outbound, about 5 miles later. The wind has picked up to "gale-force" and somehow Dave managed to get a picture taken, right after he told me it was still 2 more miles to Luce's. A bit of a change in attitude from the last picture: "When we came here today, I felt something true. Now I'm red-eyed, and blue." Now, I know it gets windy sometimes, especially in the Valley. But after 15 miles of running into a headwind, I assured myself that this was the worst wind anyone had ever seen out here and there was no f&*#ing way I was going any farther. And I was getting light-headed from not eating. So I stopped for some food (PB&nutella, ahhhh) and a snow-machine pulls up from the race patrol. We asked him how much farther Luce's was and he scratched his head (no really, he did, it was just like a goofy sheriff's deputy move) and said, "well, it's gotta be less than 4 miles." I don't think my shoulders could have slumped any more. My Totally-Deflated vibe was beating poor Dave over the head, it was so strong. I was having a hard time running any length of distance at this point. We rounded a corner just a few minutes later and the light from Luce's popped up. 4 miles? My mood was pretty bleak and Dave could tell, thus he asked me no questions about my current status. We trudged up the hill and went inside. I was shivering pretty hard with my gear all still on. Thank god there was a stove in the center of the room. Dave and I found an open spot close by and I tried to warm myself up. I was trying to think of a way to gently break it to Dave that I wasn't going any farther. Over and over in my head I kept hearing myself tell Dave a few weeks ago, "Well, we're not going quit. Scratching is not really an option." Hmmm. Damn. And, well, how do you tell this face that you want to turn around?: Twelve miles doesn't seem that long, right? And the checkpoint gods were already working their magic- want to or not, they were slowly turning me into someone happy to be at Luce's at 11 at night (have you ever been to Luce's at 11 at night with several other sweaty, minorly distraught 100-milers? It's not normal). So I turned to Dave (now remember that cute face) and said "well, I think I can keep going." He actually gave me an out and said that if I wanted to turn around, we could. But, we were going back on our own power because there was no way in hell we were going to pay $500 to be flown home. And no matter what I decided, he was going my direction. I could scratch, run back 40 miles, making Dave scratch in the process or I could go on, and experience my own little form of water-boarding. Then, I just had to admit to myself that I didn't actually have a legitimate reason to scratch. Fear and loathing, perhaps. Checkpoint Magic Dave opened handwarmers while I lubed my feet and changed my shirt into my heavy-duty stuff. He hustled me out before I could change my mind. We both put on every piece of clothing we brought in anticipation of the wind, including (drumroll, please)..... The Snowpants: Those didn't last long. In our rush to pack our sleds, put on our emergency gear and start running down a dream, we failed to notice that the wind had stopped. Completely. Crazy. After about 50 yards, Dave had to stop to take off The Snowpants. Off we go again, for a quick 12 mile run up to Alexander Lake. Heh, heh.... Shortly after the turn onto the A. Lake trail, we ran into the lead runner coming the other way- Thomas "Bunson Burner" Burton! He was so excited about being in the lead, he was giddy. A giddy sleep-deprived 100-miler running at -20 at midnight is truly a sight to behold. He kept talking to us about the lead pack shenanigans until we finally had to tell him to get going. He probably just needed to talk to somebody. Anybody. I just didn't have the heart to tell him the entire tip of his nose was white. I don't think he would have heard me anyway. He left down the trail and Dave and I looked at each other. I know we were thinking the same thing- thank god we're here together, at least we can hold onto sanity for each other for a little longer. So, to save YOUR sanity, I'll try to cover the important points of a 12 mile out-bound, short, painful checkpoint experience and 12 mile in-bound back to Luce's in a bullet-style format:
  • Next meeting- Laura, my secret hero. She was a bit dazed and tired-looking but not far behind Thomas. Again, happy to be traveling together.
  • Pass a few more runners, bikers. No one saying much. Some saying nothing. No eye contact.
  • Hallucinations begin, though mild at first, mostly black dogs disguised as spruce trees.
  • All I wanted to do was get to Alexander Lake. It is becoming obvious that 12 miles is far.
  • What you'll notice is I'm not really describing how I'm feeling. Do I really have to? I didn't think so. So, here's my "Ode to J.D."- I will not lie. This sucks.
  • Snowmachine passes, headed up to A. Lake, pulling a sled with a scratched runner on the back. I could tell it was Alessandro from Italy. Damn. He had worked so hard to lower his sled weight to a reasonable poundage. We found out later he had a "camelbag" fatality.
  • In between all these happenings, we plod along, sometimes running, progressively more walking, occasional talking. By now, it's getting terribly cold and everything is on, save The Snowpants. My emergency-only Shkoop skirt has turned into a necessity.
  • Jane! followed closely by Carol! Both too awake and too perky. They must be handing out something good at the upcoming cabin.
  • Veronica in-bound! She warns us that we won't want to stay long in the checkpoint. "It's crowded." That was an understatement.
  • Now, I know you have a tendency to see odd things out there, but when you turn a corner and see a red blinking light shining on the trail, a sled and it's contents strewn all over the ground and no runner to be found, you get a little worried. We yelled for William (name on bib), concerned about a hypothermic strip and run. Nothing. Oh boy. We kept going, hoping the checkpoint wasn't far away. Soon a snowmachine came by on patrol. We flagged him down and asking about William. He said he had scratched and was already picked up and taken to the checkpoint. Whew. Upside? We woke up a bit.
  • Kevin Vig in-bound! He looked great, alert and going strong. 30 more minutes to go.
  • Arrival at A. Lake checkpoint, looking forward to some quality rest of 1-2 hours. We walk into the cabin and it was like the Night of the Living Dead. Nevermind the full tent outside, this cabin was full of sleeping bodies. From those bodies comes a smell and humidity that is difficult to describe. There was no place to sit and dry anything out or change socks.
  • Sitting on a chair by the fire, was Jamshid. He'd frozen or scratched his corneas out-bound to Luce's in the headwind, and now, he couldn't open his eyes. They were watering and fire-red. I had some contact re-wetting solution and told him he could use it. He asked if I could help put it in and I said sure, just open your eyes. He said, no, I need your help with that, they won't open. I had to pry his eyelids open to get the drops in. Not good. His eyes were another version of bloodshot I'd never seen before, though the drops helped him open his eyes some. I told him he needed to think about his eyes first and not worry about the race. The checker was so overwhelmed with people she couldn't focus on trying to help him. I assumed he would scratch.
  • Dave was getting closer and closer to losing it with the crowd so we jetted out of there as soon as we could. The poor checker looked at us with despair, hating to lose two of the only sane people in the cabin.
  • In summary, the 12 miles up to A. Lake was excruciating. Now we left the cabin, tired, not rested and it's colder. Now, skip to the top of the blog and review.
  • Hallucinations in full- swing, black dogs everywhere, hollering to Dave to wake up. Amazingly, he can run asleep with very little change to his gait. There is just a subtle head tilt to the left and less cadence to his stride. One quick "Dave" and up he went, trotting on. Somehow he was able to remember to take a quality, flattering picture of the wreckage (first pic of the blog).
  • "Darkness is a harsh term, don't you think? And yet it dominates the things I see."
  • Somewhere while it was still dark, Jamshid! caught up and ran with us for a while. After he passed us (he passed us! With frozen corneas!), Dave told me he said "I think I damaged something". Yup. you and me both, buddy.
  • It was here, on this 12 miles that we became a poorly-oiled but solidly enmeshed team.
  • It was also here that I realized I was going to finish the race. What other choice did I have once we left A. Lake?
  • Light started to break. Sunday morning. This helped as we dropped back down onto the Yentna.
  • Fact: the two miles back to Luce's where you can see the sign for a full 2 miles is longer than the three visible miles of the dismal swamp. Don't believe me? Try it yourself.
  • Ahhh, Luce's. I knew I'd gone crazy when I was happy to see Dave Luce.

So breakfast as Luce's was awesome. Oh, except the pancakes. But I don't like those anywhere. I won't bore you with the checkpoint routine, same as all the last- off with the wet, on with the dry. It was so fun to see Jane's friendly face, until she said she scratched due to Frostbite of zee toes. Suck. the only positive thing from that? She gave me her ski poles. Ahhhhhh.....Something different! My ankles (cankles at this point) were starting to not bend very well, so the poles helped alot. I don't actually think I was moving any faster, but it FELT like it.

Next stop- Let's play "Kill the Sleep-deprived, Blind-From -the Sun(the sun!) Susitna 100 Racers"! Dodging Irondoggers on the Yentna River is not fun. I thought Dave was going to stab them with a race marker. He was close. At the pre-race meeting, the director told us to hug the race markers, as the IronDog folks knew we'd be out there and would avoid us. Hug my ass. THEY were hugging the race markers, as it was the fastest way down the river, and otherwise sane, heteroesexual men were hugging each other, in an effort to save their lives. Below-Dave, with two skiers. We felt kind of bad for them out there, it was like skiing on sandpaper. Something with the ambient temperature, the snow quality and waxy stuff. THAT's why I run.

The turn back onto the Big Su was in the heat of a gorgeous, sunny day. Seratonin release, baby. The big Su was also the location of the "Beef Jerky Incident". It went something like this: Dave- "Ooooo. I'm getting out the jerky. Want some?" Andra- "Not just yet, ask me in a few minutes." Dave- (couple minutes later)" here. take a piece." Andra- "no, just save me some in a little bit." Time passes, who knows how much. But from MY recollection, a couple minutes, max. Andra- "I'll take some jerky now." Dave-"Oh. Here, take these little pieces. They always taste the best." Andra- "Oh, ok." Little did I know at the time that they were the ONLY pieces left. The little pieces. Nice. I think it was the only salty thing we ate on the trail. The wide river, and Sleeping Lady in the background (I had to stand like that. My ankles didn't bend anymore): This is a wonderful example of what happens to two rational people on a 100-miler- goggles in calm skies and blank stares: The Big Su was going along great (make no mistake, everything was indeed hurting) but it's hard to complain with the sun shining. But evetually I realized that the turn off the river WAS NEVER GOING TO COME. The Wall of Death was apparently a one-way trip down. I hate to say it but I couldn't wait to get to the Dismal Swamp. And yet, it came upon us soon enough. Dave's face says it all: As we crossed the dismal swamp, something didn't feel right (well, besides all my joints). Oh. It wasn't windy. I asked Dave "Is this normal?" "Um. I don't think so. It's always windy here." I'd like to say we took advantage of the lull in the storm on the swamp and rocketed ahead, but nope. Plodded along. It was hard to remember that this was actually the same day we ate breakfast at Luce's. I was having some trouble across Flathorn. Yes, I'll say some trouble. Even following the right trail. Now, it's hard to go on the wrong trail here, but as we closed in on the checkpoint, I someho veered right, onto the trail that takes you across the length of the lake. "Uh, babe, you, uh, wanna be over here." Dave points to the trial he's on. It looks like it's about 1/2 mile away and through deep snow ( 10 feet away, 3 inches of hard packed). I see now, that this is where my obsession formed with staying on the (perceived) flattest, smoothest trail. Coincidentally, also my first minor bout of delerium. No worries. Flathorn checkpoint in-bound. Whew. What a checkpoint. They took off my gloves for me! They hung them above the stove! They served me MORE of the best jumbalaya. Incredible. So incredible, in fact, that I left the checkpoint and told Dave "I'd like to run a little it if that's ok". He did a double take, and looked around, I guess for whoever may have invaded my body. He looked at me, I think trying not to smile and said "sounds good. You lead the way." From Flathorn back is 16 miles. Thank god it was getting dark because it is through some of the longest, straightest, most boring trail in the day. I was surprising alert. For about 10 miles. Heh, heh. The last 6 miles were amusing at best, alarming for Dave at worst. For some reason, I wanted to turn left. "Dave, we have to turn left up here." "No, stop veering off." "Come on, it's over here after these trees." "Andrea. Just. Come on.(Add southern accent for flavor)." Oh, it's the downhill to the Little Su. Oh. This does look familiar. And on we went (dark of course). Up the awful hill that Yvonne had to mentally help me though last year. Onto Ayrshire Road. At this point, hallucinations were in full swing. Dave was Yvonne for awhile. Then all three of us were running together. Dave was starting to get frustrated with how much energy I was wasting weaving across the trail, trying in vain to find the most hard packed route. Finally I hear him say, resigned "Babe, they're all the same. Stop weaving around." Ugh, then he made me eat a caffinated Strawberry banana gel. How good does that sound? Yuck. Then, a somewhat surreal encounter that woke me up momentarily from my stupor: People walking toward us (real people, not made up in my mind). To Dave- "Are you my husband?" Dave- Ah, no?" Me- wait a minute, NO! He's with me! Alas, only a fleeting moment of sanity, then we finally reached the start of "The Last Three Miles": "I don't think that it's the end But I know we can't keep going..." So, somewhere a few miles back, before I didn't know where I was, I told Dave it would be cool to finish before midnight. So, under 39 hours. By the time we had three miles to go, we had 45 minutes to go 3 miles. He decided to approach me with this situation. The response was not positive. Along the way, I saw so many moose. They would slowly stand up and move, kind of like those Elephant hallucinations in the Disney movie. I was aware enough to laugh at my own hallucinations, and yet kept pointing them out to Dave. I think it's what kept him so awake- concern over my mental state. Needless to say, we finished in 39 hours, 27 minutes. My finish line pose. I still feel bad, writing this 2 months later (sorry, I've been out running!) that we didn't get a picture of Dave and I. It's easy for me to say I wasn't thinking clearly. But really. No picture of Dave! My most important cog, for everything! Dave piled everything in the car, warmed it up and off we went. With an empty tank. Great. We stopped at a gas station on KGB and parked for a while to sleep. A security guard circling the car woke up Dave, so we headed home. Somehow we made it. The next morning, back to civilization, with the comfort of the dog and ice: "Roll away your stone, I'll roll away mine. Together we can see what we will find. Don't leave me alone at this time. For I'm afraid of what I will discover inside... It's not the long walk home that will change this heart. It's the welcome I receive with every start." To discover what's inside, and how much you've got. Maybe that's why people do these things. I don't know. Maybe most of the negatives have been tempered with time since I'm now only finishing this 2 months later. All I can tell is it seems pretty selfish (I mean, it's not like we're solving world hunger out there) and it's not always pretty, but when you get to explore out there with the person you love the most in this world, with no cell phones, internet, world disasters, bills, Sarah Palin updates or facebook posts, why not? Dave, I love you. Thanks. Even if you did eat all the beef jerky.


  1. Wow. That sounds just...horrible. I'm glad you had Dave to keep you from wandering off into the wild.

  2. Andrea, it was so fun to run 100 miles with ya. Was the only way i could find to get you for myself for 39 hours. You are my true hero, a champion and tough as nails!
    I Love You!!

  3. I thought that race was out of my system, but now I feel like I want to go back. Damn you!

    Enjoyed the report! Major flashbacks.